The Indian men’s football team will return to action with two international friendlies scheduled next month, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) announced on Tuesday.
India will take on Oman in the first match on March 25, and then play the UAE on March 29. Both the matches will be played in Dubai.
India last played a match -- friendly or competitive -- in November 2019. With the Covid-19 forced lockdown, the national team, which was in the middle of a qualifying campaign for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, has not even convened for a training camp. The players are up and running though, thanks to the domestic season, the Indian Super League (ISL) to be exact.
Also Read | Naomi Osaka: Grand Slam Champion, Grand Slam Role Model
India’s last fixtures were the World Cup qualifiers against Afghanistan (in Tajikistan) and Oman (in Muscat). They stand on three points from the five matches played so far. They have two home matches -- against Asian Champions Qatar and Afghanistan -- and an away game against Bangladesh left to be played. Those matches would probably be played in a single venue later in the summer.
Realistically speaking, Igor Stimac’s men have no chance of progressing for the next round of the World Cup qualifiers. However, an AFC Asian Cup qualifying berth is up for grabs too and the team would be prepping to ensure no slip up happens on that front. It is clear that the AIFF has planned the friendlies to ensure that the players, who are on a roll in the ISL, continue being on the boil both physically and mentally.
The national team squad will assemble in a preparatory camp in Dubai from March 15. The players will have a small window of rest though, including a chance to visit kin and family. They have been in the ISL biosecure bubble since late November. And with the national team scheduled to convene soon after the league, those named in the squad will practically be jumping from one bubble to another. It won’t be easy on them for sure but then these are unprecedented circumstances too.
Stimac is expected to announce the squad for the camp and the friendlies in the next few days. All the players considered would be from the ISL teams. And, as per reports, the national coach would be calling up a few new faces, especially from the Hyderabad FC squad which has made waves with commendable performances this season.
Read more sports stories from Newsclick